Tilting at Windmills

I saw yet another assertion today that publishing will never need multimedia or interactivity (as though such things are even new to publishing). As always, I’m left puzzling: a) why do people feel the need to prognosticate what everyone needs, and b) what is so dangerous about the changing format of reading material that causes such insecurity?

I’m getting too old to get up on my soapbox and return the favour by pontificating on what is wrong with people who want to stay rooted in the past. I just have a secret wish that whenever someone feels the need to make these kinds of wide-sweeping generalizations that they’d also stop and think for a moment and answer why no one in any publishing field should ever have access to the features they personally claim are unneeded. That’s what you’re advocating when you advocate that a format like EPUB should not support functionality.

Granted, simple heading and prose fiction is, bar none, the easiest form of content to generate in a reflowable format like EPUB (and is the most prevalent), but that doesn’t mean that EPUB should be limited to what that one sector needs (and that’s assuming that fiction is so homogenous).

The format is not incompatible with a desire for simplicity, after all. Make books that are headings and text if that’s all your audience wants. No one is holding out a noose with the option to rethink everything you’ve done to date or take a plunge.

If and when the traditional novel needs to change, it will change. And it will be authors who decide how it changes, not the prognosticators, futurists, technophiles and what-not of the industry.

But what probably bothers me most about the absolutist approach is that it doesn’t take into account the nature of digital, and the ongoing progression toward fuller integration with the web stack.

The web is the broader digital publishing platform, of which portable electronic publications are a subset. The two can co-exist, and are unlikely to merge any time soon, whatever integration continues. In that light, asking to rip out core functionality, just because it’s perceived by some to have no value, is advocating for some specialized subset of the web. That kind of artificiality is a hallmark of Amazon, and designed, no doubt, to the limits of their market.

I’ll grant that you can have HTML without JavaScript, and that JavaScript is hardly the greatest programming language ever created. But, again, who is to judge that the de facto language for client-side scripting is unnecessary? Maybe if you throw out the needs of educational publishers. Let’s just accept that static quizzes with upside-down answer keys are the pinnacle of testing technology.

The choice of what you use in your publications is yours. Please try to exercise that choice without prescribing what everyone else must do.

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